Transient, Stress-Related Paranoid Ideation and Borderline Personality Disorder

According to the DSM (Diagnostical Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Criteria for Diagnosing BPD) One of the possible criteria for a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is:

"Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms."  

While I could always easily identify with experiencing the severe dissociation, I couldn't really connect with experiencing the stress-related paranoia -- until last night.  And, once I did, I realized that it has actually been a part of my condition for a while - it just was not in my conscious awareness.

Perhaps because I have a close relative who has schizoaffective disorder and who experiences more elaborate, frightening episodes of paranoia, I assumed that this was what paranoia looked like for everyone. 


However, last night, as I lay in bed, I heard a clicking sound in the next room. My thought immediately went to: "Someone broke into the house with a switchblade knife and is going to kill me!" Not, "The cats are probably playing," or "The house is settling," or "So what - a click." My thoughts jumped to fears that someone was going to harm me.

Of course no one had broken in, but I've had similar thoughts before. I've gotten out of bed in a panicked freakout to check all of the locks on my doors and to check that no one was in my closets or in the shower -- even though I knew in my heart that no one was likely in the house.

Just the other day, I froze on the couch when I heard strange sounds coming from the laundry room. Turned out, it was just my new refrigerator.

I attribute these episodes, in large part, to traumatic events I've experienced in my life. I have been held at gunpoint. I have been prevented from leaving a house for a long period of time. My life has been in danger before.  Unfortunately, sometimes my mind jumps to the worst possible scenario even now when something scares me, and I tend to believe it a little bit.


I'm pretty good at getting into wise mind, but now that I look at it, I do experience some paranoid thoughts when very stressed.

In less severe cases, I've made up "stories" about why people weren't calling me back or emailing me, often terrified that I'd done something to push them away or upset them. Meanwhile, they were caught up in their own lives, and it had nothing to do with me.

Remember, everything has cause, and these reactions are just our brains' ways of protecting us from harm, based on previous experiences and fears.

The best self-care I have found, so far, for coping with these episodes are self-soothing and distraction, along with getting into a Wise Mind state as soon as possible. 

I challenge the thoughts by considering the reality of my safety (and sometimes I check things out by getting up and looking around the house if I feel so compelled), but I usually just stay right where I am and ask myself how realistic I think my thoughts are. I can usually conclude that I'm overreacting - or, more precisely, being paranoid.

I remind myself that I am safe and sound. The past is the past, and in this moment, there is no trauma.  I am also cautious to be sure there really is no present danger, but 99% of the time, there is not. 

Do you ever experience stress-related paranoid ideation?  How does it show up for you?  How do you cope?

Thanks for reading.
More soon.


  1. I do exactly the same thing, if i'm in bed and hear a noise i immediately think someone has broken in and i am in danger.
    I was put in situations as a child that were unsafe more than once by my mum.
    Sometimes when i am out in the world i will see people that remind of people that were at a particular place/event and i will revert back to feeling the way i felt. Usually i run in the other direction.
    I always go back to feeling unsafe. It's hard to tell yourself that you most probably aren't in any danger and that the random person accross the street that briefly looked at you isn't going to come after you for no good reason. It's even harder believing it.
    Very difficult. Thanks for sharing this Debbie. There are many things i never thought i did but am now discovering daily through wise mind that i do alot.

  2. I do the same thing as well. When i'm alone at home, i lock every door. I lock a total of 8 locks spread around the ground floor of our house cuz im afraid some1 would enter the house and rape/kill me. I also go paranoid when i see men on the street that have a certain age (fathers type age). Always scared they could come after me to harm me. I try everything to prevent the bad situation as in change the side of the street or turn around, take a different bus even if it takes longer than the original one. I cant convince myself that these people wont harm me, no matter what i do. All i wanna do is run away.
    Thanks for sharing this, Debbie, i didnt actually think of it as bpd symptom but now i actually understand it.

  3. My older brother would hide in the dark and jump out to scare me. Or he would make gurgling sounds, like the exorcist or something like that. He seemed very amused, but I was really scared and most important of all, my mother was to busy at her things to defend me or even to notice. I knew that at a very early stage, so it would have been useless to go to her and ask for protection. My brother was a parental figure to me, but also my torturer. At nearly 40, I'm still scared to enter a dark room, I'll run for the light switch in panic, even if (especially if) it's my OWN house and my brother lives miles away now. Elizabeth

  4. Just reading above about their brother jumping out on them. My brother used to stare like he was dead or possessed it was so scary as I was 5 years younger than him, but the same thing my mum was to busy looking after my other brother who has severe spectrun autism, and also trying to keep my Dad happy when he came home from work, usually late drunk & abusive & violent. I witnessed my Mum being beaten by my Father many times, I guess thats why I don't have alot of faith in men. Sorry have to sign off now as I am causing my own 'Triggers' but THANK YOU for making the word 'Trigger' sound normal for once in my life. X BIG LOVE X

  5. Debbie, Debbie, Debbie. Once again you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. My paranoia appears mostly to be stress related as well. I become convinced everyone is plotting against me and are talking behind my back. I see everyone huddled up and whispering. Thank God for DBT to show me this isn't the case. My "gremlins " are feeling neglected and are wanting attention. MOST OF THE TIME

    I cope best by trying to remember I am NOT the center of the universe and people do have quiet conversations. Also,I am blessed to have some people with whom I can actually tell how I am feeling and they can either confirm or deny. 9/10 deny.


  6. I think the most frustrating part (for me) is that everything I "overreact" to or am "paranoid" of, I can see for what it really is when it's someone else experiencing it. :(



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